Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

Saluki sports look to make noise this fall


Each sport returning this fall to SIU has high expectations for the coming season after some turbulence experienced in 2022. These student-athletes are facing a lot of pressure, as football, volleyball and women’s soccer are some of the most popular sports on campus.

That pressure is no further evident than for the women’s soccer team here at SIU. Last year was their first full season with a winning record; but the dream was short lived as head coach Craig Roberts was put on administrative leave midseason. He has since been let go after an investigation conducted by the university.

Goalkeeper Ary Laugher said this offseason has been a real change of pace from the past.


“I think we’ve been in a super awesome place this preseason and we’re ready for this fresh start,” Laugher said.

The Saluki soccer team was just issued new jerseys for the 2023 season. One could think this symbolizes a new age coming for the Dawgs on the pitch.

The soccer team has been working to get better all summer, with practices multiple times a week, plus two preseason games. The regular season started with a 2-1 win on Aug. 17.

Laugher said the team has implemented new strategies on both sides of the ball and she’s been very impressed with new players on the team.

“We’ve been working really hard. There are a lot of new perspectives and styles of play that we haven’t seen before,” Laugher said.

On that note, the Dawgs are extremely young this year. The roster consists of 31 players, 13 of which are freshmen. For this squad, winning games early will be crucial to gain momentum for conference play.

“Those are some of the most important games of the season,” Laugher said.


That’s typically the case for young teams. It also happens to be that the Salukis on the volleyball court can relate.

Junior outside hitter Nsia Gittens said her team can’t wait to get on the road and play in those highly anticipated early-season tournaments.

The Salukis began with an exhibition game on Aug. 19 against Saint Louis University, which they won by a set score of 3-1. Before the game, Gittens said the Salukis were ready to test themselves against the Billikens.

“It will really set the tone with where we’re at and how good we actually are. So I think it’s probably one of the most important matches we have,” she said.

For Gittens, she’s one of the few upperclassmen on this year’s roster. After missing almost all of last season with an injury, she is ready for a fresh start in 2023.

“I haven’t played in almost a year now [..] so me and Ceci (Buhlman) are buzzing to play. We’re really excited,” Gittens said.

Sophomore outside hitter Buhlman also missed most of the 2022 season with injuries after an impressive freshman showcase. Last year, multiple freshmen like Buhlman, received lots of playing time and rose to the occasion.

Gittens specifically praised sophomore libero Claudia Bobb on her work this offseason.

“When Claudia is back there, I feel like I have nothing to worry about because she is so quick. She has adapted so well to playing with us,” she said.

There’s a real chance this is the year it all comes together for the Salukis. With a good mix of veteran leadership and young talent, Gittens said, the rest of the conference should watch out.

“We have all the pieces. We just lacked confidence last year, but this year I want us to understand how good we really are,” Gittens said.

There’s another team on campus that hopes to have a comeback year: the SIU football team.

After a 2021 campaign that saw SIU gain its highest NCAA ranking in years along with a playoff berth, the Salukis had a slight fall from grace during the 2022 season.

Last year’s Dawgs finished 5-6, losing the last four games of the season and missing the playoffs. It’s safe to say expectations were not met for what was thought to be another historic run for Southern Illinois.

However, failing to make the playoffs last year may have been the spark SIU needed to have a resurgence. Junior linebacker Branson Combs said the Salukis understand more than ever what it takes to win.

“It was tough last year, being down a little earlier than we have been and that’s something we want to get back to,” he said.

That doesn’t mean there haven’t been slight distractions to start. The team is already on its third defensive coordinator since the end of last season, after Jason Petrino left for the same position at North Dakota State, and his replacement DJ Vokolek resigned to take a role at Northwestern just before training camp.

SIU then appointed Antonio James, who has been asked to come up with a new defensive scheme on the fly. While it is not an ideal situation, Combs said Coach Hill appointed the right man for the job.

“It’s a little tough having to learn it all on such short notice, but Coach James is a great person and a great coach. We have all the confidence in the world when it comes to him leading the defense,” Combs said.

It isn’t just the defensive side of the ball where fans have concerns. On the offensive side, the Salukis lost running back JaVon Williams Jr. and wideout Avante Cox this offseason, two key parts in SIU’s offensive scheme.

Despite the doubt from outside sources, Combs said fans have nothing to worry about. There is still plenty of talent left on the offensive side in the likes of quarterback Nic Baker, receiver D’Ante Cox and running back Justin Strong.

“We have playmakers all over the field with guys that can make plays; and that’ll be expected out of our offense,” he said.

It isn’t just returning players that have shown out. Multiple transfers have stepped right in during camp and have made quite an impact, according to Combs.

The Salukis are set to have an interesting start to the season with some tough matchups. They have circled the rivalry game against Southeast Missouri State on Sept. 16, their third game of the year.

For Combs, it’s crucial his team comes out swinging in the decades-old feud.

“The War of the Wheel is a huge rivalry game. That’s something we can hang up in the locker room. Being able to grab a win before heading into conference play would be great,” he said.

No matter the player, no matter the team. Each Saluki student-athlete has one goal: to get better day in and day out.

Despite each team experiencing some missteps last year, they have expressed full confidence it is all behind them. The only thing left to do is take their team to new heights; whether it’s on the court, field or pitch.


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